‘We’re in a tough stretch’: Biden announces new COVID-19 mandates for millions of Americans

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden toughened COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal workers, contractors, employees of large businesses and others Thursday as he seeks to curb the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant and convince vaccine skeptics to get their shots.

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In July, Biden announced that federal government employees and onsite contractors would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to undergo regular testing and other measures to stymie the spread of the viral infection. Last month, he ordered nursing homes to require that their staffs be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing federal funds.

>> Related: Coronavirus: Biden sets vaccination requirement for federal workers

Update 5:32 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: Biden ended his speech with a plea for Americans to get vaccinated.

“We have the tools,” Biden said. “Now we have to finish the job.

“Look, we’re the United States of America. There’s nothing, not a single thing we’re unable to do if we do it together.”

Update 5:25 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: Biden said that school board members that have had had their salaries withheld because they implemented mask mandates in defiance of a governor’s executive action “will have that pay restored 100%.”

“I promise you I will have your back,” Biden said.

Biden did not mention any particular governors, but in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken steps to punish school boards that have put mask mandates in place.

The President also urged all governors to urge teachers and staff members to get vaccinated.

Update 5:15 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: Biden announced that businesses with more than 100 employees must require that their workforces get vaccinated or implement weekly COVID-19 tests. This will come in the form of a rule from the Department of Labor. Biden said he also will sign an executive order to require employers to provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and call on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or COVID-19 testing for entry, among other measures.

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said. “It’s about protecting those around you.”

The White House said the mandate could apply to as many as 100 million Americans.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is drafting an emergency temporary standard to implement the requirement, according to the White House.

“Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this -- United Airlines, Disney, Tyson Foods, and even Fox News,” Biden said.

Update 5:06 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: “We’re in a tough stretch, and it could last for awhile,” Biden said from the White House as he laid out his plan for new COVID-19 mandates.

Update 4:10 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: White House officials on Thursday afternoon shared Biden’s six-part COVID-19 action plan, which aims to expand vaccine mandates to millions of Americans.

Under the plan, vaccine mandates will be expanded to private sector businesses with 100 or more employees, all federal workers, contractors who do business with the federal government, all health care workers in facilities that get Medicare or Medicaid dollars and staff in Head Start programs, Department of Defense schools and schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.

>> See the COVID-19 Action Plan

The sweeping plan aims to convince the 80 million Americans eligible for COVID-19 vaccination who have not gotten their shots to do so. It will also require employers to provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and call on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or COVID-19 testing for entry, among other measures.

“The President’s plan will reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans by using regulatory powers and other actions to substantially increase the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements,” White House officials said Thursday.

“This plan will ensure that we are using every available tool to combat COVID-19 and save even more lives in the months ahead, while also keeping schools open and safe, and protecting our economy from lockdowns and damage.”

Update 3:52 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: The mandate Biden is expected to announce Thursday which will order businesses with more than 100 employees to require that their workforces get vaccinated or to implement weekly COVID-19 tests will come in the form of a rule from the Department of Labor, The New York Times reported.

Biden will instruct the Labor Department to draft a rule of the mandate, according to the Times.

The measure is one of several to be announced Thursday afternoon aimed at boosting vaccinations and stymieing the spread of COVID-19 as the highly transmissible delta variant and continued vaccine hesitancy lead to spikes in cases nationwide.

The president will also announce that federal workers and onsite contractors will be required to be vaccinated and will not be able to opt out and instead submit to weekly testing. He will also announce that executive branch employees and contractors who work with the government will also be required to get vaccinated.

Update 3:39 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: Biden will announce Thursday that employers with more than 100 workers will be required to have their workforces vaccinated or to implement weekly virus tests, The Associated Press reported. The mandate will affect about 80 million Americans, according to the AP.

Earlier Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki hinted at the coming mandate but declined to go into specifics.

“We’ve seen over the past couple of months not only the threat of (the highly transmissible) delta (variant of COVID-19) but the importance of taking additional bold and ambitious steps to get more people vaccinated,” she said.

Update 2:19 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said federal officials have the ability to compel large employers to require that their workers get vaccinated.

“Yes. Stay tuned,” Psaki said Thursday when asked about whether the Department of Labor or other agencies could pressure private sector companies into enacting mandates. She declined to elaborate on the tools available to the federal government.

“More to come this afternoon,” she said.

Biden is expected to announce six steps aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and boosting vaccinations nationwide in remarks scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

Update 2:11 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the president will announce “a series of additional requirements” later in the day to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The planned announcements will include “additional ways he’s going to expand access to testing, which is a key way that we can ensure we reduce the spread of COVID, and ways that we’re going to work with states and communities to implement these proposals,” Psaki said.

Update 2:04 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: The president is also expected to announce Thursday that health care facilities which receive Medicare and Medicaid funding require their staffs be fully vaccinated, NBC News reported.

“Our overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“Our objective here is to continue to save lives, continue to protect more people from coronavirus and continue to stop the spread of coronavirus across the country. We understand there will be objections, there will be concerns, there will be criticisms, but our role here is to save lives.”

>> Related: Biden admin to require COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home staff

Update 1:58 p.m. EDT Sept. 9: In a new executive order, Biden will mandate that executive branch employees and contractors that do business with the federal government get vaccinated, according to the AP. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that there will be exceptions allowed for “legally recognized reasons such as disability or religious objections.”

“The interagency task force will provide a ramp up period and we expect federal employees will have about 75 days to be fully vaccinated,” she said. “That gives people more than enough time, in our view, to start and complete their vaccination series. If a federal worker fails to comply, they will go through the standard HR process, which includes counseling and face … progressive disciplinary action.”

>> Related: WHO: COVID-19 likely ‘here to stay with us’

Original report: Biden is also expected to sign an order Thursday which will require all federal workers to be vaccinated without the option of opting out and instead undergoing regular testing, The Washington Post reported, citing a person familiar with the plans.

The president is set to deliver remarks Thursday afternoon on his plan to stop the delta variant and increase vaccinations. Biden met Wednesday with members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team to discuss six steps he plans to outline in his remarks, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

>> Related: Study: Vaccines significantly lower risk of COVID-19 infection, ‘long covid’ symptoms

“We know that increasing vaccinations will stop the spread of the pandemic, will get the pandemic under control, will return people to normal life,” Psaki said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

“(Biden is) going to outline the next phase in ... the fight against the virus and what that looks like, including measures to work with the public and private sector, building on the steps we’ve already announced -- the steps we’ve taken over the last few months: requiring more vaccinations, boosting important testing measures, and more -- making it safer for kids to go to school.”

The highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, combined with ongoing vaccine hesitancy, has fueled new spikes in COVID-19 cases reported nationwide, according to public health officials. Research has shown that fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant, which accounts for more than 80% of all COVID-19 cases reported across the U.S.; however, officials have noted that vaccination protects well against severe and life-threatening symptoms of the viral infection.

>> Related: How do you know if you have the delta variant; what are the symptoms?

Across the U.S., about 73% of all adults have received at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday morning, according to latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 53% of the total U.S. population, or 177.1 million people, has so far been fully vaccinated.

The United States leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 40.4 million infections and reported more than 652,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 222.6 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in nearly 4.6 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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